With the help of Laser Alliance and Chris French Metal, Aidlin Darling Design crafted a hanging ceiling canopy composed of 180 wooden ribs.
Wexler’s refined spin on farm-to-table barbecue in San Francisco’s financial district offers guests an authentically char-grilled dining experience, minus the smoldering cinders. Inspired by its progressive grill menu, local multidisciplinary firm Aidlin Darling Design dreamed up a 46-foot-long billowing ceiling canopy that hovers over the dining room like a plume of smoke. The feature also extends to the exterior, doubling as an awning over the main entrance that beckons passersby.
“The original design, based on an undulating plane of smoke, was designed in both AutoCad and Rhino, [using the] lofting feature that extrapolates geometry between two curves,” said Adrienne Swiatocha, project architect for Aidlin Darling Design. The canopy’s softly curving profiles at the exterior and at the end of the wall were hand-drawn. The architects used Rhino to amplify and adjust these curves throughout the center portion of the canopy. This varying amplitude echoes the way smoke dissipates across a room. “[Then], we sliced the three dimensional plane every few inches to generate a bunch of curved line profiles, and offset it by 5 inches to create a second, curving, thickened line.”
Once a 3/4-inch profile had been achieved for each of the 180 ribs, an inverted J-shaped hook was carved into the profile of each slat so every piece could be hung from a metal rail system. “For each slat, you can take a point from the J-hook and let Rhino extrapolate a profile that connects those hooks so they slide,” Swiatocha explained. The architects also added notches in each hook to prevent them from slipping. “It was really challenging because the ceiling was low and had exposed ductwork, sprinklers, and lighting. All those conduits run beneath the joists so we had to design our system around those preexisting elements.” In addition to providing easy access to the ceiling, the system of ribs also made for a speedy installation on-site and a clean look that didn’t use invisible fasteners.
To produce the ribs, which are made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) and medium density overlay (MDO), the Aidlin Darling team contracted the services of Alan Vien at Laser Alliance, who tested both laser and CNC cutting methods before suggesting laser fabrication for speed and cost savings. “Material can sometimes become charred with lasers but, because we were painting each rib, that wasn’t a problem,” Swiatocha said. The teams chose MDO for the exterior ribs due to the material’s durability and weather resistance. Both MDO and MDF ribs were painted the same charcoal hue.
Each rib hangs from a metal rail system that was fabricated and installed by Chris French Metal of Oakland. Laser-cut, carbon steel rails were screwed to a plate stock metal hanger, and then bolted to the ceiling joists. “Both the right and left rails in this case had arcs of different radius lines that weren’t symmetrical,” said Chris French of the challenge presented by the wooden canopy’s irregular volume. The studio generated an install image in VectorWorks with a datum line. “While installing the hanging bars, we would measure from the center line of the bracket to that datum line, plus or minus, according to that drawing.”
Once the metal rail system was installed, the ribs, which were sequentially numbered, were hung from front to back by one person on a ladder in a matter of hours. “It was fun to see it go in so quickly,” said Swiatocha.